$300 million collection to N.Y. museum

May 07, 1998|By Judith H. Dobrzynski | Judith H. Dobrzynski,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- A renowned collection of 20th-century European art considered by many to be one of the strongest in private hands has been bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Natasha Gelman, who died May 2 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, gave the museum the entire trove of 85 works by Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Balthus, Modigliani and two dozen other masters that she had amassed with her husband, Jacques, over the last 50 years.

The gift, whose value is estimated at $300 million or more, vastly upgrades and fills many holes in the Metropolitan's collection.

It adds the first Matisse paper cutout to the museum's holdings as well as the first paintings by Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti; Matisse's "The Young Sailor II"; and a 1906 Picasso self-portrait that once belonged to Gertrude Stein.

"It is the most important gift ever to the 20th-century department and in fact one of the most important gifts to any department in the museum," said Philippe de Montebello, the Met's director. Gelman, an honorary trustee of the museum, was 86 when she died.

"This exponentially transforms the collection of 20th-century art in its most classical and critical period," de Montebello said. "It's a sensational group of works."

Jacques Gelman, who died in 1986, made his fortune producing the films of Cantinflas, the renowned Mexican comedian. He and his wife were indefatigable collectors who focused on the School of Paris -- the modernist painters who made the City of Light the center of the art world in the early part of this century.

In her will, Gelman specified that the artworks had to be kept together, exhibited as a single collection and not integrated into the rest of the Metropolitan's works.

The Gelmans also had a collection of Mexican art, which will go to a Mexican museum, said Janet Neschis, the executor of the estate. The beneficiary has not been decided, she said.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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